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1,000 reasons for groups to come to 1,000 Islands

Courtesy 1,000 Islands International Tourism Council

A conversation with Tillie Youngs, sales and services coordinator 1000 Islands International Tourism Council

What is distinctive about your area?
Along with Great Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, we have a number of inland waterways and tributaries where we boat, fish, kayak, dive, white-water raft, and bird watch. Since the mid-1800s, our captains have been guided through our watery passages by lighthouses that stand as sentries awaiting both professional and amateur photographers to capture their majestic images.

What are the main group attractions in your area?
We have several boat tours along our waterfront communities that offer lunch, dinner, ecological education and entertainment. Although some tours offer stops on islands that are homes to castles, including Boldt Castle and Singer Castle, others stop for an island picnic.

Our castles showcase what life was like in the early 1900s, known as the Gilded Age, before the income tax. The St. Lawrence River was a virtual playground for the rich and famous, and their breathtaking mansions still dot our landscape. Private railcars and steam yachts transported the “summer people” to the river so they could enjoy the fresh air and solace.

George C. Boldt started his journey in the United States as a young immigrant from Germany. Working his way up the ranks in New York City hotels, Boldt provided the best in service for his guests, and no cost was spared in his castle — a 120-room mansion built as a testament to his wife, Louise. It was to have all of the modern conveniences available for Louise and their two children.

Sadly, Louise passed away in 1904 before the completion of the castle, and George immediately halted construction. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the castle in 1977 and began a painstaking process of rehabilitation. Today, groups enjoy the beauty and romance that was once Boldt’s vision.

Dark Island is home to Singer Castle, summer retreat for Commodore Frederick Bourne, who became president of the Singer Sewing Machine Corporation at age 36. His castle was completed in 1904, and visitors included Vincent Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Four floors still house original furnishings, and tours of the castle include visits to secret passages.

The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton explains how folks traveled there years ago. The museum chronicles life on the river throughout the centuries with more than 300 antique watercraft. Exhibits include displays of dugout canoes, cabin cruisers, George Boldt’s houseboat and original St. Lawrence skiffs.

Nestled on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in eastern Ontario is Upper Canada Village, a living-history museum from the 1860s. With more than 40 heritage buildings to explore and a host of costumed interpreters to bring history to life, groups are entertained by the butcher, the baker and the candlestickmaker, who all have a story to relay about life before electricity and BlackBerries.

At the Fort Henry National Historic Site, sentries guard the entrance to this 19th-century British fortress. Everything comes to life with period costumed guides, musical performances and military marches by the Fort Henry Guard. The tour includes stops at the soldiers’ barracks, officers’ quarters, cookhouse, dry ditch and fire chambers. Soldier servants treat groups at the Fort Henry Officers’ Mess and provide lively anecdotes alongside sumptuous food. Every Wednesday evening in July and August, a military tattoo is performed during Fort Henry’s sunset ceremony.

What are the major annual events in your area?
Harborfest in Oswego is celebrated the last full weekend in July and has twice been honored with an American Bus Association’s Top 100 Event designation. The weekend features more than 100 choices of entertainment on stages throughout this small waterfront city, and includes a juried arts-and-crafts show, a New York state wine-tasting market and world-class fireworks displays.

Another favorite is the Glengarry Highland Games, held the first weekend in August in Maxville, Ontario. Since 1948, this is North America’s largest gathering of the clans, and thousands make the pilgrimage to compete or enjoy the Scottish traditions. The festival includes piping and drumming by more than 60 bands, Highland dancing and traditional track and field events. The highlight of the games is the massed bands performance and the announcement of the North American pipe band champions.

What’s new in your area?
The 200th Commemoration of the War of 1812 will take place from 2012 to 2014 with events planned throughout the region.

Control of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence corridor was crucial, and our region played a vital role during the war. Our waters saw many battles between the Americans and the British, and many forts remain today as a reminder of the time that our two nations were at war. Since the end of the war, our region has enjoyed an enduring friendship with our one-time foe, and our celebrations will be a coordinated effort to ensure historical accuracy.

Where are some great places to get a taste of your area?
Fishing has been a lifestyle in the 1000 Islands for generations, and along with the sport comes some great eating. A traditional shore dinner is a must, and this outdoor dining experience can be arranged at regional parks, the shoreline picnic pavilion at the Antique Boat Museum and even on an island. After a predinner snack of a bacon-and-tomato sandwich and a garden salad topped with 1000 Islands dressing, the main course follows with salt potatoes and, of course, the catch of the day, prepared in a recipe handed down through generations. Dessert consists of French toast with pure maple syrup and captain’s coffee.

Kingston-1000 Islands Cruises shines when it comes to dinner cruising. Hungry bank group members can enjoy a three-course meal or a buffet while traveling along the shoreline and experiencing an amazing sunset. A little dancing after dinner promises to make this a most memorable evening.

What is one souvenir everyone should bring back from your area?
The 1000 Islands Region has always been a farming community, originally settled because of the rich soil and the consistent growing season. We have a variety of fresh, made-in-the-1000 Islands-products, such as cheeses, maple syrup, wine and 1000 Islands salad dressing, and our suggestion is a gift basket that includes a little bit of everything.

What is one surprising thing people will find in your area?

The St. Lawrence Seaway is a major shipping corridor that connects the interior of North America with the rest of the world. Billions of dollars of trade float along this vital passageway, and it’s not unusual to have a 900-foot, ocean-bound ship pass alongside your tour boat.

Is there an annual event or time of year that a bank group should consider in planning a trip to your area?

After the rush of the summer season, early fall tours offer a slower pace and more room availability. Add a hint of autumn in the air, and the fall colors begin to change, providing a beautiful mix of colors.

What is your website address, and what on the site would be particularly helpful to a bank travel planner?

Our site,, offers short editorial highlights on a variety of topics: quick glimpses of our attractions, lodging facilities and recreational opportunities. We also have a section with a photo gallery and links to video clips.

Are there any special programs and services for groups in your area?
• Our welcome bags are customized when bank directors contact our sales and services coordinator prior to their arrival.

• We encourage group leaders to join us on a familiarization tour.

• Let us know what your interests are, and we’ll help develop a customized tour that’s perfect for your group.

• Our photo image library of professional photography is available on disk, or images can be sent by e-mail or uploaded.

Tell us your favorite story about your area.
Five Indian tribes made up what was known as the First Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Great Spirit of these tribes, Manitou, became sad as he watched his people fight and decided it was time to end this foolishness so he parted the sky and came down to earth. On his back, he carried a bundle wrapped in his blanket. On the bank of the mighty St. Lawrence, he opened his pack and offered a beautiful garden. In exchange, his people vowed not to fight.

Eventually, fighting again erupted; the garden was being destroyed by war, and Manitou returned to take back his gift. As he returned to the sky, his pack broke open, and the garden fell to earth, breaking into thousands of pieces, creating what we know today as the 1000 Islands or Manitouana, “the Garden of the Great Spirit.”